Fired Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor is scheduled to stand trial on murder and manslaughter charges next April for the shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
In a brief court appearance — Noor’s second since he was charged — Hennepin County District Judge Kathryn Quaintance set an April 1, 2019, trial date, while denying a number of defense motions to dismiss the case and to exclude certain evidence. There existed enough evidence, she ruled, to bring Noor to trial for the death of the 40-year-old Australian woman in July 2017.
“What was in the defendant’s mind at the time of the incident can only be inferred at this point,” Quaintance said in court, reading from her order. “There is, however, sufficient evidence from which the state could argue that Mr. Noor fired without knowing what or who was outside the police cruiser.”
Defense attorney Thomas Plunkett declined to comment on Thursday’s hearing, and a spokesman with the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office didn’t immediately respond to a message.
Noor, who was fired from the department in March, hasn’t entered a plea on charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter, but his attorneys indicated that he would plead not guilty by self-defense. He remains free on bail.
His termination was appealed by the police union, but its grievance is on hold pending the outcome of the criminal case.
The defense argued for dismissal on the grounds that the intense media attention surrounding the case might undermine Noor’s right to a fair trial. The defense also argued that comments Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman made last winter rose to the level of prosecutorial misconduct and could taint prospective jurors.
But while Quaintance called Freeman’s comments lamenting the lack of evidence in the case “ill-advised,” she wrote in a separate order that “there is no indication that it has the potential to prejudice Defendant’s right to a fair trial.”
Prosecutors have argued that the shooting was the product of a “depraved mind, regardless of human life,” releasing excerpts of Noor’s training and psychological records that they say show he was unfit to be an officer.
The defense has said the results of psychological testing alone provide an incomplete picture of Noor, calling prosecutors’ release of those records intentionally “misleading.” Noor’s lawyers maintained that the ex-officer fired in response to a perceived threat, after Damond banged on the back of his police SUV, startling him and his partner, Matthew Harrity.
In denying their motion to quash the psychological records, Quaintance maintained that while the psychiatrist who interviewed Noor has a medical background, no physician-patient privilege bars their release, since the records were obtained during pre-employment screening. She further ruled that there was no legal precedent for sealing the records, as the defense had requested.
Noor is the first police officer statewide in recent memory to be charged with murder for an on-duty killing.
Damond, whose legal last name was Ruszczyk, but who went by Justine Damond professionally, had called 911 to report a possible rape in the alley behind her south Minneapolis home in July 2017. Prosecutors say she was shot as she approached the SUV’s driver side window, with Noor firing past his partner, who was behind the wheel.
Noor arrived in court Thursday wearing a dark-colored suit, pushing his way through a scrum of photographers and reporters who followed him until he went through security. He said nothing during the 10-minute hearing. Afterward, he shook hands with several supporters who sat behind him in court.
Last week, Quaintance denied a petition by an Australian broadcaster to allow cameras to broadcast the hearing, after attorneys on both sides objected.
Prosecutors argued that Noor’s actions on that night reflected a pattern of behavior that dated back to his hiring in early 2015, when a psychological profile exam revealed “a level of disaffiliativeness that may be incompatible with public safety requirements.” They said red flags were also raised during Noor’s training.
Prosecutors sought to seal the records, arguing that since they were collected in the course of an investigation by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, it should be considered “investigative data,” whose release under state data practices law is allowed only when the investigation is closed. Quaintance agreed, but did not rule on a follow-up filing by Noor’s attorneys asking that if the judge allowed those records in, she make them available to the public.
Noor is also the subject of two lawsuits currently wending their way through federal court. Damond’s father filed a $50 million suit last month accusing Noor and Harrity of conspiring to cover up evidence of the shooting by failing to turn on their body cameras, and later hiding behind a “blue wall of silence” as the case was being investigated.
A status conference is scheduled for Oct. 17 in another lawsuit, filed weeks before the Damond shooting by a south Minneapolis woman who accused Noor and two other officers of illegally removing her from her home.
Attorneys in the Damond suit have filed motions seeking to delay the proceedings until after the criminal trial, but the judge in that case has yet to rule.
A Police Department spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.